||Covid-19 / Current state of play in India’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Government of India took some very early and decisive steps in the initial stages of the pandemic, which has ensured a low death rate and high rate of recovery.
Despite the size of India’s population, the ratio of positive cases per million remains the lowest at 538, and that of deaths per million remains at 15, compared to the global average of 1453 and 68.7 respectively. In addition to this, India has shown a robust recovery rate of nearly 64% with about 5.9 lakh recoveries in total. India’s active cases remain around 300,000, while fatality rate at 2.7% is much lower than the world average of over 5%.
India’s Covid strategy rests on the three pillars of testing, contact tracing and strict containment measures. Indigenously developed digital tools such as Aarogya Setu app are being widely used to predict emerging hotspots in the country. The Aarogya Setu app is presently being used by over 140 million people in the country.
India has tested around 11.8 million people so far, making it one of the largest testing undertaken by a country. The price of RT-PCR testing kit has also been brought down substantially, owing to the ramping up of its domestic production. The testing and tracing strategy also involve widespread serum surveys being undertaken by the ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research) to evolve a comprehensive picture of the pandemic situation in the country. Testing has been scaled upto 400,000 tests per day and this has been possible with ramping up of domestic manufacturing capacity of testing kits, especially RT-PCR and Anti body tests.
The Government of India, in close coordination with the State Governments, has massively scaled up the country’s health infrastructure. Augmentation of the number of hospital beds and Intensive Care capacity is work in constant progress. Innovative methods are being adopted, literally, on a war-footing as community centers, hotels and other spaces are converted to Covid care facilities. Oxygenation equipment and ventilators have been procured in large volumes. The armed forces, paramilitary forces, the railways, the public and private sectors and the non-governmental and voluntary sectors have pooled resources and facilities. As an example, a 10,000 bed facility was created in Delhi within the space of a week in a joint government-civil society operation.
Supply of PPEs (personal protection equipment) and masks, including from domestic sources, is adequate. This was not the case in the early stages of the pandemic. In the span of a few months, India became a PPE kit manufacturing hub. Indian organizations re-purposed units and stepped up output to meet this challenge.
India’s health-care professionals, doctors, nurses, paramedics and technicians have held the line in the face of daunting odds and at personal risk to themselves. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) of Government of India is regularly mapping the human resources in the country and these details are available on the MoHFW website. The available human resources for handling Covid crisis in the country is 16.2 mn, of which 9 mn are health care professionals and frontline workers etc. and about 7.2 mn are volunteers from Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS), National Service Scheme (NSS), Indian Red Cross Society and NCC etc.
It was not just domestically that India expeditiously ramped up efforts. India’s timely supply of medicine to about 150 countries was in response to an urgent call for tackling the global pandemic. Assistance in the form of grants was provided to countries in South Asia, Africa, Latin America and Caribbean. Export of these medicines is now fully opened up as part of India’s commitment to keep global supply chains open and free.
The Directorate General of Health Services under Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is coordinating data and clinical management experience across the country to study long term side effects and recovery complications in COVID 19 patients to evolve appropriate medical protocols and rehabilitation programmes. AIIMS Delhi is providing clinical management guidance and expertise through the virtual mode to hospitals and doctors within the country, whereas AIIMS Raipur, Bhubaneswar, Jodhpur and PGI Chandigarh did the same with India’s friends and development partners in the SAARC region and beyond through ten courses as part of eITEC programme in which over 800 medical professionals participated globally.
India has facilitated two-way flow of information, products and expertise. Indian institutions are linked to class-leading global health-care systems and are simultaneously able to facilitate the flow of knowledge and expertise, in the other direction, to India’s development partners.
This pandemic has highlighted the strengths of India’s health-care capacities, including those in pharmaceuticals, basic research, vaccines, diagnostics, devices, tele-medicine, hospital administration, health-care supplies and related expertise. India has leveraged these capacities to emerge as the “pharmacy of the world” and a healthcare supplier to all parts of the globe. India’s pharma sector’s strengths in generics, APIs, biologics, new drug development and research have attracted positive attention. Indian products meet global standards and the industry has numerous globally certified manufacturing facilities.
An Indian vaccine has begun trials. Indian vaccine manufacturers are likely to be producers of choice as when a vaccine emerges.
The pandemic has also unleashed an unprecedented humanitarian and economic crisis which the Government of India has worked to tackle proactively. In order to protect both lives and livelihoods, following the announcement of a nationwide lock-down, the PMGKAY (Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana = Prime Minister's Food Security Scheme for the Poor) welfare program was announced in the beginning of the lock-down, in March 2020. This has now been extended up to November 2020. PMGKAY is one of the world’s largest food security projects that aims to ensure nutrition for the most vulnerable sections of the society amid the pandemic. Estimated cost of this welfare measure is about Rs.1.5 trillion, and its extension follows a Rs.21-trillion stimulus package announced by the Government in May 2020, which included a range of policy reforms and financial support programs to aid economic growth and empower the citizens amid the pandemic.
Besides this, the Government of India also undertook the world’s largest repatriation exercise to help its citizens stranded in different parts of the world, owing to the pandemic and the lock-downs. As of 13th July, more than 6 lakh stranded Indians have returned safely to their homes, including from some of the most remote parts of the world.